So the wife and I got a babysitter Saturday night and headed out to wreck the town, which for me mostly consists of going out to dinner and seeing a movie that isn’t a year old.
So we went to see what everyone else saw this weekend: Oz the Great and Powerful.
Part of the challenge of doing a prequel is that you know exactly where the characters are supposed to end up at the end of the movie. A good director will side-step this problem by making the journey and the characters interesting enough that you want to see how the characters ended up there. And other directors will give you spunky kid Darth Vader woo-hooing and awkward ‘romance’ scenes that must have been written by a celibate monk who has not actually seen a human woman or any interaction between the sexes.
Anyway, Oz rests on the titular character and as long as you go into it with that in mind, it is an enjoyable film about a man caught up in extraordinary circumstances who lies, bluffs, and fakes his way through it until he becomes the man he was pretending to be. James Franco’s performance is great as the insufferable, sleazy carnival magician conman who cons his way into becoming a hero and figure the people of Oz believe in, and he is largely responsible for carrying the movie.
Franco is a cad, who abuses his assistant (Zach Braff), seduces young women with lies, refuses to settle down with his childhood sweetheart (Michelle Williams) because he doesn’t want to be a good man, he wants to be a great man like Harry Houdini or Thomas Edison. When the husband of one of the objects of his affection wants to beat the tar out of him, he hops a balloon into a tornado which drops him into the land of Oz.
I joked about how this movie could all be the result of a vivid hallucination of a dying man, but I’m not joking when I say that this is a distinct possibility. Oz finds himself in a world where he becomes the most important person in the world. His childhood sweetheart is a powerful good witch. His assistant is his flying monkey butler. And he is able to work a miracle for a little girl in Oz when he couldn’t do the same in Kansas. It’s an interesting thought anyway.
Despite the marketing, the witches are definitely in the background and their stories fall a little flat, especially Mila Kunis’ Theodora who gets seduced by Oz and has her heart broken. Her transformation from innocent girl into a cackling, screaming wicked witch is a bit too fast and a bit too contrived for my liking. Rachel Weiss is definitely in the background, but does a good turn as her own wicked witch who has lied and schemed her way to the top and definitely doesn’t feel like stepping aside for another liar to take her place.
Michelle Williams does a good turn here as Glinda, giving her personality and humanizing her a bit from the sugary sweet version in the Wizard of Oz (who was actually pretty horrible.) She sees through Oz pretty quickly, but is determined to give the people the leader they hope for and can believe in anyway, even if it means going along with a huge con job.
Overall, the journey is a compelling one, the characters are likable, and the resolution is a pretty great.
I would recommend buying tickets for this one.